May 6, 2006
The countdown to a massive aerial bombing of Iran, possibly using bunker busting nuclear weapons, has begun. In strict adherence to a script written jointly by the British and US foreign offices and exposed by The Times of London some two months ago, the US, Britain and, surprisingly, France are pushing the UN Security Council towards passing a resolution condemning Iran’s refusal to stop uranium enrichment under chapter 7 of the UN charter. This, as Nicholas Burns of the US State Department reminded reporters, will "make the Security Council’s resolutions mandatory under international law" and justify the imposition of a variety of sanctions. Although Burns did not say so explicitly, reporters were left in no doubt that such a resolution would be a prelude to a surgical strike against Iran. A chapter 7 resolution would provide the fig leaf the US has been looking for.
Such a strike would most probably not be confined to a few key nuclear and missile installations. Pentagon planners made it clear to Seymour Hersh that its purpose would be to prevent Iran from launching any retaliatory strike against international shipping in the straits of Hormuz or other American allies and assets in the Gulf. It would aim at destroying all its airfields, ports, naval installations, submarine depots, missile bases and support facilities. According to one estimate, it would involve strikes on more than a thousand targets. Worst of all, since the Natanz uranium enrichment facility is more than 75 feet underground, the Pentagon has already warned the White House that it will have to use a nuclear weapon to destroy it.
The only hurdle is a possible Russian or Chinese veto of the next resolution. But the US and Britain have worked out a way of securing their compliance by degrees that is a masterpiece of diplomacy. Their strategy has been to play upon all countries’ reluctance to see the emergence of yet another nuclear power, and put forward resolutions that ask Iran to cease and desist, but do not involve the use of force if it refuses. The US and Britain have calculated that each resolution of this kind that the Russians and Chinese support will commit them to the path of escalating the pressure in the next resolution. When the chapter 7 resolution finally comes, they will simply choose the easy way out of abstaining from voting on it.
The first step on the road to entrapment was to get the board of the IAEA to pass a resolution in September last year stating that Iran’s enrichment programme was a threat to international security. Although India demurred verbally, to its eternal shame, it caved in before American pressure and joined in this condemnation.
At the next meeting of the board, it got the IAEA to refer the matter to the Security Council (again, with India’s concurrence) but deferred any discussion in the council till Iran had been given some more time to agree to stop enrichment. When, as anyone could have predicted, Iran did not do so, they took the next step and got the Security Council to pass a non-binding resolution asking Iran to stop uranium enrichment within 30 days. Now that Iran has ignored this resolution, the stage is set for the chapter 7 resolution that the US and Britain have been aiming at from the beginning.
Even here, the US, Britain and Dominique Villepin’s France are bending over backwards to frame a resolution that will allow the Russians and Chinese to believe that they have not endorsed military action against Iran. Burns has said that if Iran ignores a chapter 7 resolution, it could face bans on investments in oil and gas production, the purchase of dual-use technology and international travel by Iranian officials. But only the hopelessly naïve will fail to see that while none of these will significantly hurt Iran in the short or even medium term, they will redouble its determination to acquire nuclear weapons and speed up its programme, now outside the supervision of the IAEA. Shorn of knowledge about what Iran is doing, the Bush administration will only take months to whip up sufficient paranoia to make a surgical air strike look like the only sane option left. After that, it will claim that the chapter 7 resolution is all that it needs to launch that strike.
As a reading of the NPT and the Paris agreement between Iran and the EU3 makes amply clear, in insisting upon its right to enrich uranium, Iran is breaking no law. On the contrary, it is the US and the EU that are doing so when they seek to deprive it of this right. Their justification is that they simply know, beyond a shadow of doubt, that Iran is developing enrichment technology and facilities only to make nuclear weapons. Their action is, therefore, a pre-emptive defence of the NPT. What they are congenitally unable to admit is that they have themselves created the justification for not only Iran, but any country to ignore the NPT. Indeed they have gone beyond that and undermined the very foundations on which international law rested so far.
The purpose of law is to regulate relations between individuals. It is founded upon the surrender by all members of society of those natural 'rights’ (such as the right to rob or kill) that they would not like others to exercise against them. International law applies this principle to relations between States. The principles of international law were first codified in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 and progressively refined into the body of international law we have today. But the two pillars on which the Westphalian State system rested were the sovereignty of States and the non-interference in the internal affairs of other States. Peace was maintained through deterrence and war was only justified when it was waged in defence of one’s people, territory or vital interests. Grotius, the father of international law, was absolutely convinced that the only just war was a war fought in self defence. The danger, moreover, had to be immediate and the force used to repel it had to be proportionate to the threat.
Both these pillars, which had been enshrined as recently as in 1945 in Article 2 of the UN charter, were blown to smithereens by Bush’s national security doctrine of preventive defence and its application to Iraq. Unveiled in 2002, the doctrine substituted the intention to do harm with the capacity to do harm. America would be justified in declaring war not just on a country that unmistakably intended to attack it, but one that had or was trying to develop the capacity to harm it. For good measure, it also claimed the right to militarily intervene in any country at any time to identify and destroy this capacity.
The US has thus plunged the world back into the 'state of nature’ from which it had emerged in 1648, and as Thomas Hobbes pointed out, this was also a state of war, at least until another powerful hegemon emerges which can restore order. All the international treaties signed over the past hundred years and more have implicitly assumed the existence of the Westphalian order and acceptance of its basic principles. In destroying the former and repudiating the latter, Bush has destroyed the premises, and thereby invalidated not the just the NPT but all the major international treaties. The repudiation of the Kyoto Protocol, the use of cluster bombs, depleted uranium shells, white phosphorous bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan and the contemplated use of nuclear bunker busters in Iran shows how rapidly other international agreements are unravelling before our eyes.
The US is the motive force and sometimes the sole perpetrator of all these renegade acts. It is, therefore, truly ironical that this, of all countries, should be seeking to indict Iran for breaking 'The Law’. The sooner other governments recognise that they are living under a tyranny and join together to oppose it, the safer the world will be.